It is the end of the night. A man you hardly know, a new dishwasher at the restaurant you have been at for two years too long, will offer you a hit from his bottle; he hands it to you, double-bagged in plastic and brown paper; you pull the bottle from its packaging. It is Vladimir Vodka. The kind in a plastic bottle. You know this because you have bent down to those bottom shelves many times, though you prefer Old Crow bourbon.
The man is kind. He opens conversations like this: Man, so how about that Dennis Rodman? And there’s nothing particularly wrong with him as a person aside from the fact that he is boring, obvious, and doomed. But just because you pretend to have total awareness of these things does not spare you, so you will drink.
There are rules to drinking from a stranger’s bottle.
I. You must never, ever touch the lip of the bottle to your mouth. Alcohol burns away many bad things, inside and out, but that is only when it is inside the bottle and when it is inside you.
II. In order to follow the first step, you must distract the person who gave you his bottle, so’s not to offend him. Think of something; as dumb as it will sound, even saying, Hey what’s what that over there? will often work. As long you’re taking a quick slug.
III. You must pour quickly, with good height away from your mouth. If you have an underbite (as I do), then catching the booze in the basin of your jaw won’t be a problem. If you have a small mouth or are wearing a good shirt—in which case one must wonder why you are drinking from a stranger’s bottle at all—there is an alternative.
III (a). It is possible to clean the lip of the bottle quickly. To do this, put the palm of your hand over the bottle, turn it upside down, and then wipe the bottle with the alcohol that wet your hand. This works, but it assumes that you’re willing to waste booze and that you have sufficiently clean hands. Which you probably don’t.
Finally you drink. You pour and count in your head, feeling the vodka fill your jaw.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. The man is turning back around. 8 is good. 8 is a good hit and it cuts just close enough for the man to turn and see you pulling the bottle down. He smiles because he has offered you something and you have taken it. For a moment now, however brief, you two have shared all of the sadness and joy of the world. You have drowned it and, more importantly, braced yourself for a long walk home through the cold.
You say goodnight, and thanks.
About the author:
Boyd is a winner of the 2012 PEN Prison Writing award, a program which he now mentors for his tumblr page www.EricBoydblog.tumblr.com is featured on the poetry section of that website, highlighting his daily six word stories, poems and longer works.